Len Kuntz


       We were there for a funeral. 

      The land was long and unending, a blonde ocean of wheat woven into the wind.  My wife was a nervous new bride meeting more of my side of the family, yet she was the same crass woman.  Her mouth ran ahead of her.  “How do people live like this?  I thought farming was dead?  What do the kids do for fun, there’s nothing here but wheat?”

      Her hand had been sweaty but as we walked it got dusted with chaff and became chalky.  Her grip remained.

      “I’m so glad we live in the city,” she said.  “Aren’t you?  Aren’t you glad you got out of this place?”

      We stopped under it, I did, to look.  One side of the tree fort had become disbanded and a board hung off like a broken wing.  A breeze slow-danced with what was left of the structure and as it did nails long-rusted moaned.

      “Just look at that thing.  This whole place, nothing but junk metal and then all that wheat.”

      I kissed Amy Gardner up there when I was thirteen.  It was her idea.  She said she wanted to try things, experiment.  She said the worst predicament she could imagine was being normal.

      And now I wasn’t really looking for the ring.  The sun settled low between a hump of hills, so there was little means of locating it anyway.  Like finding a needle in a hay stack. 

      When I’d asked her to go steady, Amy laughed so hard she nearly choked to death.  Then she said, “Let me see that thing,” and threw the ring as far as she could.  “I’m never getting handcuffed.”

      My eyes skirted the ground out of habit.  My wife didn’t notice.  We walked back to the house which was just as well because the ring wasn’t meant to be found.  On the way, the setting sun winked over a pine-hooded hill. 

      In the morning we had breakfast before leaving.  My parents and brother couldn’t stop staring at my wife because she wouldn’t stop talking.  Dad winced as if he had chest pains or gas and Danny just grinned, astonished, shaking his head.

      I tried tapping on my wife’s knee but she went on and on anyway.

      Our meal was chicken-fried chicken, hash browns and wheat biscuits slathered with hunks of diary butter, then drowned in gravy.

      My wife wouldn’t touch the meat, instead she poked it with her fork, cringing, perhaps expecting it to still be alive.  She pulled a potato sprig loose to use as a pointer when she spoke.  After awhile Mom said, “Aren’t you going to eat?” so my wife pried the biscuit free of its sopping pile with the intensity of someone disarming a bomb.  She sliced it in half, separating wet part from dry.  I had my own plate, but this maneuver of hers sent an aroma wafting, smell of milled grain, of the very earth itself.  I remembered having dirt clod fights with my brother and Amy.  Amy had a pitcher’s arm and jet speed.  The mud grenades would explode and granules would find their way into my scalp, my ear runnels, shoot up my nose while Amy grinned and slung another so that I’d end up wiping chunks of tangy dirt off my teeth.

      Now my wife leaned her large head into my vision.  “Isn’t that right?” she asked.

      I stared at her, blinked.  To get her to look away, I said, “Of course.”

      She said something else and then took a bite of her biscuit, jerking violently at once and grabbing her jaw.

      Mom asked what was wrong before I thought to do so.

      “There’s a rock, a nugget in my biscuit.”

      Mother blinked like a stumped hen, flushing.  “Why, there’s no such thing.”

      “It was a stone.  I think it broke my crown.”

      She dug into her mouth, knuckles-deep, searching. 

      “I’ve been making biscuits longer than you’ve been alive, and we sift our wheat three times over.  We’ve never had a complaint in forty years.”

      “I don’t care.  It was—“

      I pinched my wife under the table so hard she kneed it and plates bounced and she asked what did I do that for. 

      Before loading into the car, we got our parting hugs.  Even my wife got them, nothing firm, the kind of embrace bludgeoned boxers might impart after a bout.

      I road down the driveway doing twenty at best, watching the tawny fields wave to me.  A wind gust swirled S’s at the slope of the hill where Amy and I once fell down in a fit of gut-ripping laughter.   This was prior to the ring, when we were just starting out, and Amy made me promise we’d always be friends. 

      I said, “Sure.  Of course we will,” although I knew that was a lie one way or another.   

      Amy smiled and pulled my arm so it rested under her neck, and soon she dozed with the sun stuttering through the swaying stalks.  In fifteen minutes, my arm had fallen asleep.  It was more than numb.  It felt like razors stabbing every nerve, yet I didn’t move.  I didn’t want to wake Amy because she’d get up and say she had to go and more than anything, I didn’t want to be alone.

      Now I looked over at my wife on the passenger side, jabbering, making circles with her arms.  I had learned to love her. 

      “Are you even listening to me?” she asked.

      Next she said she was certain there’d been a pebble in her biscuit.  “It was about the size of a pea,” she said.  “Or a diamond.  It was that hard anyway.”

      I laughed, laughed so deep my eyes watered and I had to slow the car.  In the rearview the wheat fields had disappeared, but that was okay.  At least I wasn’t alone.

      “What?” my wife asked.

      “Nothing,” I said, punching the accelerator.  “Nothing.”